Advocacy and The New World

It’s April 2020, and CoVid 19 is still out there, wreaking havoc on our streets and turning life as we know it, upside down.

Across the world, our friends’ bars are still closed for business, and we don’t know when we will see them again. But what we do know is that a few months from now, the world will back on its feet and ready to start over. What will that world look like? With the ever changing landscape of the spirits world now preparing to change even more, are spirits brands ready for a complete overhaul in their ways of working? Advocacy, as we know it, will probably be one of the first elements that will need revaluation. As one of the most powerful tools of a brand, advocacy is also in dire need of a face lift – one that will need to sink its teeth into individual strengths and and unlimited access to evolving technology.

Read on as Mal Spence walks us through his vision of what advocacy could look like in the new world.

Advocacy.  We used to say Brand Ambassador.  That was easier to define, easier to put a tangible description to.  You could point to a person, a function, a role, even a behavior. 

In our industry, Advocacy is the umbrella term used to describe the function, purpose and direction of the role of the Brand Ambassador.  Advocacy is the word used to fit into the Brand and Marketing lexicon.

Brand.  Marketing.  The two pillars of everything that dictates the function of Advocacy within a company’s structure.  These pillars are shifting. If you look around our industry right now, you’ll see uncertainty.  With the global economy in constant flux, natural disasters constantly changing the landscape, and most recently, CoVid_19, our industry reacts to an ever changing and developing world.  As these changes impact our industry, Advocacy has failed to adapt.  It has failed to evolve. 

The traditional form of Advocacy is unlikely to survive unless it adapts. 

Advocacy has evolved before, so it should be able to still.    

In 1999, I began my career as a bartender.  Flitting between a full time Graphic Designer and a glass collector (bar-back) at the weekend, it would be 6 months before I poured my first pint.  From then until I reached the heights of competing in my first ever cocktail competition, the industry changed dramatically.  In a scene based around Sex On The Beach cocktails and Long Island Iced Tea’s, a bar in London started to take great cocktails from the confines of Five Star Grand Hotels into the environment of Style Bars.  Good quality spirits, fresh ingredients, and elaborate garnishing.  Douglas Ankrah set a new, exciting trend that captured everyone’s imagination.  The rise in cocktail culture and the return of cool, saw cocktails start to grab the attention of the nation.  No corporate party or event would be complete without high profile bartenders from the hottest bars in the city being hired for the night and recreating drinks.  Event Bars were the first step in taking the bartender out of the confines of the mahogany and into the wider world.  The charm, theatrics, hospitality, and great drinks opened up borders. If you were to look at Advocacy in an ‘Origin of The Species’ perspective, this was the moment and time the first cell divided into two.  The Ambassador was born. 

If you had to point to a ground zero, a big bang, in my era, it’s widely accepted that this time, place and person, was John Gakuru, 2004, London.   Back then you could count the number of Global Brand Ambassadors on one hand.  Simon Ford, John Gakuru, and Ian Burrell.   I doubt you would even call them Global Brand Ambassadors at the time, as the role had still to be defined, and that’s exactly what a handful of bartenders did. 

I spoke to John recently and a very interesting fact came out of a very interesting conversation.  During this period of discovery when John was setting up a global network for Sagitiba Cachaca, he always considered himself a bartender.  When I moved to a position with Black Bottle Whisky as their GBA, I saw it as me hanging up my shaker, moving out from behind the stick and into a ‘real job’.  But John, at the time and still to this day, never had that consideration in mind.  Despite now heading up a Brand & Events Agency in the US, he still considers himself to be at the core, a bartender.   We’ve celebrated for a while now, both the fact that career bartenders can exist more commonly now, and that our industry has grown and developed to offer more progression from hospitality.  One of the fundamental flaws however, has been the lack of training bridging the gap in that transition from hospitality to brand. 

When I made the transition from bartender to ambassador, I was lucky enough to be mentored through it by someone, but that’s not always the case.  The larger companies do have the relevant structure in place to aid this transition, but they also have the benefit of foresight, resources, and time at their disposal.  What’s apparent now, is that in a rush to keep up with the growing trend, smaller to medium brands didn’t have the time, knowledge or foresight to put in place relevant and required specifications for the role.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have never worked in that environment, and have experienced so much support, guidance and structure in the Advocacy roles I’ve worked in.  But I’ve seen first hand what it looks like when it’s done wrong and without structure.   And in my opinion, that lack of training, structure and understanding of the role, has led as to a point where a large part of the industry, doesn’t really know what to do with Advocacy as we shift into this new world. 

So, what exactly is wrong with Advocacy then? Unless we know what the issues are, we can’t begin to fix them.  In my opinion, here are the issues I believe are the biggest challenges Advocacy faces presently.

  • Cost

Okay let’s get straight into the numbers.  Let’s say you have a full time, Global Brand Ambassador representing a singular brand.  The average salary for that role would be between £30k – £50k max.  That’s a fairly decent cost considering the scope and scale a GBA brings you.  But that’s just the salary.  When you factor in flights, hotels, sustenance and general expenses, that cost of sustaining a single Brand Ambassador can escalate to almost twice that cost easily. 

  • Return on Investment

This, ROI, is pretty much Sales patter,  but that’s how we measure the return we make on investment.   Normally, it’s measured in bottle sales, ie,  X 9 litre cases.  This is a good tangible way of measuring how much you will get back for what you spend.  Listing fees, pour deals etc.

With advocacy, it’s much harder to define the return on say a masterclass or training session.  There are ways as to quantify that by looking at direct bottle sales, but it’s still a slightly grey area that can’t really be tied down.

  • Footprint / Reach

There’s only so many places one person can go and only so many people one person can engage with.  For the cost of implementing an Ambassador, the audience and engagement levels are pretty low.

  • Global Factors

Pandemics, embargos, flight / travel issues.  All these changing aspects affect the role of a GBA massively.  With the increasing rate of these issues, it affects the ability of this role and its ability to function

A BA packs his bags, gets a $20 Uber to the airport, waits around, maybe spends some money in Starbucks, gets on the plane, flies a few hours to his destination, gets another Uber to his hotel, this time probably twice as much.  Checks into his hotel, swipes the CC, gets some food, goes to bed.

Gets up, gets an Uber to a meeting, has some lunch, goes and does a training session for around thirty people.  Has dinner, visits a few bars goes back to hotel.  Takes an Uber to the Airport, waits at the airport a few hours, has some more food, gets on a plane for a few hours, gets an uber home. Done.

This is an over simplified version of ‘A Day In The Life’, but it paints a fairly accurate picture. 

Of course, If a BA is travelling further afield, it makes sense to maximize their time, naturally you would organize as much activity and engagement as possible to make sure as many opportunities are being captured to quantify the cost of the trip.  But it all adds up.  And this is the main crux.  In 2020, with all the technology we have at our disposal, does the cost, time and use of resources justify even having a Brand Ambassador?  What are the main benefits of actually having an Ambassador? There are many, here’s my take on the key benefits an Ambassador brings to a Brand –

  • Relationships

Probably the biggest asset of having a Brand Ambassador, is the engagement built up in the relationships they build.  This is a fundamental aspect of the role, and is one of the most powerful skills they have

  • On Trade insight

A key ‘Eyes & Ears’ on trends within the on-trade world, communicating back to both Brand Marketing & Sales, the BA has a distinctive eye to observe and report on the smallest of details

  • Liaise between Brand & Sales

The BA has a unique ability to work between Marketing and Sales, having the appropriate experience and knowledge to feed back to both, the right opportunities for the Brand, and creative solutions for commercial problems

  • Authentic Voice

The BA possesses the relative skillset to hold an audience, presenting the brands narrative and story in an engaging, entertaining and effective way

So, the key question, is how do we evolve advocacy, to solve the challenges it faces, but maintain and enhance its obvious benefits?

We could take a look at how the rest of our industry is adapting and using technology to aid it.  Digital, video, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, podcasts, YouTube. 

There is a wealth of technology available to us, but how do we change our traditional ways and adapt them to take advantage of this?  We can see massive engagement levels on Instagram, which branches off into other spheres.  Some brands are using a combination of all of these, their campaigns covering above-the-line billboards, TV Ads that reach all the way down to Instagram posts and gifs.  We’ve seen cocktail tuition videos, photos of cocktails and recipes, and even online guided tasting sessions.  Clearly the framework and structure is there and being used, so how does Advocacy, an asset primarily based on relationships and engagement, plug into that framework?  

I think there’s a place for technology that could alleviate both cost and strain on Advocacy, and also greatly enhance the overall reach.  Using a platform like YouTube would allow you to both broadcast sessions live, and store a wealth of content that could be easily accessible to anyone at any time.  Of course, you still need someone to capture this content, but one session done in Glasgow is equally as relevant to Manchester.  However, you still need a brand ambassador to host and capture the session.   If you’re a small to medium Brand that only employs one Global BA, this method would increase the reach of your Advocacy program, and also reduce the pressure of travel.  If you’re a large Brand with Ambassadors in cities and regions all over the world, then content creation and capture increase massively, expanding and enhancing the content through regionality and market specific topics and themes, but also give those regions a far greater toolset to increase their foothold.

And then we have Spotify for podcasts, Instagram Live, and QR codes to make it easy to share.  The other piece of technology that could really evolve Advocacy, is AR, Augmented Reality.  So far we’ve seen this being used to almost a novelty effect, but it could potentially be used to enhance and replace the missing feeling of presence.  In China, AR is being used to bring Brands to consumers in interesting and creative ways, enhancing people’s interaction with the brands.

The tools are there, the change is inevitable, and when we come out of quarantine and learn to adapt to a new world, it will be interesting to see how Advocacy adapts, and who will make the change.©

Mal Spence is a veteran bartender who moved into the advocacy world a few years ago and has ever since, been helping brands and advocacy teams develop their global voice and deliver their message to international audiences effectively.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Mr. Keshav Prakash says:

    Thank you, really insightful.


    1. So glad you found this insightful. Thank you for reading, Keshav.


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